Friday, April 9, 2010

The Business Model Files for Chapter 11

I've been meaning to blog about Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, for a while now, but truth be told, I haven't had time to finish it yet. I will say, however, that it is a great read and a real eye opener. You can purchase it here, and I can assure you it's worth the price. In fact, I would have bought the book for Chapter 5 alone. The unassuming chapter title, The Business Model in New York City, hardly does justice to the contents. In it, Ravitch ravages the BloomKlein years, taking us on a misstep by misstep chronological journey through the decline of education in NYC as the Education Mayor attempted to replicate the business model in our schools. I knew most of the things in the chapter, but somehow seeing the litany of mistakes detailed all in one place brought home to me how thoroughly the BloomKlein years have sucked the life out of the public school system.

I bring it up today because two more missteps, largely based on the business model, have taken center stage today. First, it's been reported that the experiment to pay students for better grades has been a colossal failure. The idea was based on the assumption that children would work harder if offered money to do so. It works for all those Wall Street types doesn't it--you know, the ones who get miltimillion dollar bonuses while teachers have to buy #2 pencils so their students can take practice tests? As it turns out, those Wall Street guys got bonuses even when they fared worse than a monkey throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal, and kids did about the same.

In a related business model story, it appears that merit pay for teachers is a bust, too. Despite the fact that merit pay has been pushed since the 1950s, Vanderbilt University's Matthew Springer says, "I think the jury is still out." I don't know about you, but it seems to me that if you can't prove that something works after 50 years, it probably doesn't. Nevertheless, states are scrambling to include merit pay in their Race to the Top applications because they want to snatch up some of the money that Obama has thrown in the air.

The business model doesn't work in a school environment. I know it, Diane Ravitch knows it, and most people with common sense can figure it out. It's time the business model filed for bankruptcy already.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you ever consider looking at the cash incentives study rather than reading a tiny NY Post article about it? Or at least the Time magazine cover story that provides a much more comprehensive view of the findings.

There were four cash incentive programs tested in four cities. NYC had no effect. The program in Chicago had mixed results. The program in DC had positive results. The program in Dallas was as effective as class size reduction and Head Start, with gains retained a year later even after the incentives were no longer being awarded. Kirabo Jackson also has done a couple studies on cash incentives tied to AP results and more kids took the tests, passed the tests, and got higher scores on their SAT scores as well. And they also outperformed peers in college after the incentives were no longer in place.

I don't think merit pay moves teacher performance, nor do I believe that BloomKlein have confidence in its impact, particularly at $3K per year. But I think the idea is that if you moved to a more mainstream compensation structure, you'd attract talented people into the profession who don't currently consider it as an option because they don't like the idea that their individual contributions has doesn't translate into compensation. Also, you'd presumably have an easier time removing low-performers. And folks who are burnt out (and miserable) would be less likely to stick around if they weren't earning $90-100K simply by virtue of years served. That model doesn't exist anywhere, so how could we know whether or not it works?